I realized a couple of days ago that I’ve never written about Tally 2, Greg Pierce’s simple little iOS app for no-look counting. Let’s rectify that.

The basic idea behind Tally1 is to let you tap the screen to increment a counter. Here’s the main screen.

Tally main screen

You don’t see any buttons to tap because the whole screen is the button. Tapping anywhere increments the counter. This is what makes Tally so easy to use. You don’t have to look at your phone, you only have to have it within reach as you keep your attention on the thing you’re counting. (And if you tap by mistake, you can decrement the counter by swiping down.)

I use Tally in this no-look way quite often in my work. I’ll be examining something under a stereo microscope and will need to count, for example, the number of cracks on the surface of a plastic lever or the number of threads on a very small screw. If I look away from the eyepiece, I’ll lose track of where I am on the part, so I put my phone on the table next to microscope and tap as I count each feature.

Before Tally, I did this by making tally marks on a notepad as I counted. This usually worked just fine, but it wasn’t as convenient. Sometimes I’d have to put my pencil down to make an adjustment of the part or the microscope, and then I’d have to hunt blindly for the pencil. Sometimes I’d write one tally mark on top of another and have trouble interpreting my count. Tally gets rid of these small annoyances and lets me work faster and more confidently.

You may think this is a niche use, and you’d be right. But I’ll bet if you think about it, you’ll find that you have your own niche uses. Being able to keep your attention on what you’re counting instead of on the thing you’re counting with is very helpful. Mechanical palm clickers have been around for ages; Tally is just another example of how apps on our phones are taking the place of separate specialized devices.

If you need to have more than one counter active simultaneously, Tally has you covered. Swiping to the right from the main screen reveals a list of counters that you can set up, each with its own name. You can now track several counts, but you do have to look at the screen to tap the correct button.

Tally counts screen

Although I typically use Tally to do all of my counting over a short period of time, you don’t have to use it that way. A few days ago, after I complained about iOS 8.3’s spontaneous reboots, I learned how Nate Boateng uses Tally to keep track of a longterm count.

Spontaneous iPhone reboot while updating apps.
Dr. Drang (@drdrang) May 26 2015 8:17 PM
@drdrang That’s happened to me 14 times since going to 8.3. After 3, I started keeping tabs.
Nate Boateng (@nateboateng) May 26 2015 8:21 PM
@drdrang It’s one of a handful of things I use @tallyapp for.
Nate Boateng (@nateboateng) May 26 2015 8:27 PM

I thought this was a clever use of Tally; Greg Pierce was ambivalent.

@nateboateng @drdrang @tallyapp not sure whether to smile or cry.
Greg Pierce (@agiletortoise) May 26 2015 8:30 PM

Normally, Tally makes a noise and flashes the screen when you tap, but that behavior can be modified. Swiping up on the main screen reveals a set of options for turning these on and off. It also includes a button to reset the count to zero.

Tally options

Tally is a free app. With a $2 in-app purchase, you unlock the ability to have an unlimited number of counts and a dark mode.

Tally dark mode

I’m normally not a fan of dark modes, but I like Tally’s. In addition to counting while using an optical microscope, I also need to count while viewing objects in a scanning electron microscope, which is typically done in a darkened room. Tally’s dark mode makes it less distracting then. (It would be even better if I could make the number red instead of white.)

As you’d expect in an app from the inventor of the x-callback-url system, Tally has its own URL scheme, which you can activate through apps like Drafts, Launch Center Pro, Workflow, and Pythonista. I’ve never done that, but I do use the share sheet—available on the counts screen and via the options sheet—to send counts to Drafts for further annotation. When sharing multiple counts, you get one count per line with the labels:

Small 3
Medium 2
Large 0

There are a few other options that I don’t use. You can, for example, set a count directly to some nonzero value and change the amount by which the count is incremented and decremented.

More significantly, you can run Tally from your Apple Watch. This strikes me as having great potential, as it means you can keep your phone in your pocket as you count. Since I don’t have an Apple Watch, I can’t tell you how well this works in practice. I do wonder if the watch’s tendency to turn off its screen quickly gets in the way.

Tally is one of those apps you’re unlikely to keep on your main screen, but which you’re really happy to have a few times a month.

  1. The official name is Tally 2, but since the original version is no longer in the App Store, I’ll omit the 2 from now on. There are several counter apps with “tally” in their name, so if you try to find it by searching the store instead of following my link, make sure you get the one from Agile Tortoise.